So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. (Matthew 28:8 NKJV)
I don’t think the reaction I had to this devotion in the book Pauses for Pentecost is quite what the author had in mind. You see, joy and I don’t always play well together. I’ll get back to that in a second.
We Christians have our own kind of jargon that we often use when we speak to each other. Oftentimes this jargon can be said in a well meaning manner, but can be the total opposite of what the person needs to hear. A couple of these little lines/quips make me want to throw myself through the nearest glass window. One of the worst offenders for me is the admonition: “Don’t let anyone steal your joy.” Even typing it is like running fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Kids, chalkboards are what we old dudes used before dry erase white boards. If your teacher got mad at you he or she would make you clean the erasers, and if you had to do that, you were going to have a bad time.
But back to the “stealing of joy.”
I have a degree in Psychology. I know that there are many perfectly legit reasons why a person would not feel joy. Clinical depression is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve suffered from depression, and let me tell you, I felt incapable of feeling joy. I also have a degree in Forensic Science. Once I stood in the emergency room of a hospital and took evidence photos of a woman who had been beaten to a pulp by her husband. It was pretty much the most horrible thing I have ever had to do. If someone had come into that room and told her “don’t let anyone steal your joy,” I would have shoved my camera down their throat myself.
Joy is a good, wonderful, sacred thing. However, we need to remember that not everyone is in the same place on their faith journey. We never know what valley someone might be crossing or what battle they might be fighting.
Which brings me back to my personal experience. As I mentioned earlier, I have suffered from depression. As recently as two or three years ago, I might have said that I don’t remember the last time I felt joy. Now since then I’ve received some wonderful treatment from a doctor who takes the time to listen to me, and perhaps more importantly I’ve been able to be honest with God about how I felt and experience some of the healing that only he can provide.
But I still struggle. In response to this word and devotion I found two main problems that I have with experiencing joy.
First, when I start to feel joy I start to also get a feeling back in the base of my skull that it’s not going to last. I’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to fall. I’m always wondering what the catch is. I’ve become so acquainted with disappointment, and I fear rejection so much that whenever I feel joy I pretty much expect it to be a short lived experience that will make me feel worse in the long run. Basically if joy is the mountaintop experience, I’m afraid of taking one step too many and falling off the sheer face into the valley below.
Kind of sad huh? But wait, there’s more!
Let’s say I can get past that. Let’s say I find something to be legitimately joyful about. Well, next up comes guilt. I start to think about other people suffering from depression. My mind goes back to that woman in the hospital room with injuries from domestic violence. Why should I get to be happy when so many other people are hurting? I’ve literally had people tell me that I’m entitled to be happy once in awhile too, but honestly, sometimes I don’t feel like I am.
Maybe you’re like me, for these or any other number of reasons. If you are, then what do we do about it? I don’t think that having a bunch of well meaning but kind of annoying people throw out platitudes like “Don’t let anyone steal your joy” is the answer.
But I do think that there are answers, and if not answers, then there are a couple of good places to start.
First off, if you feel like you might be suffering from severe depression, please, please, PLEASE SEEK HELP. When I say help I mean from a licensed health care professional. Sometimes we Christians think that if we just pray hard enough, talk to our pastors, and lose ourselves in scripture then the problem will be taken care of. But take it from me as someone who both believes in the power of God and is trained in mental health services, depression is a medical condition that should be treated as such. When I got my psychology degree my adviser knew I was working toward being a pastor. She drilled one thing into me: KNOW WHEN TO REFER TO A DOCTOR. God has given these folks talents and we should not be afraid of letting them help. It just might save your life.
Second, try to find someone you can talk to about how you feel, and be open to letting them minister to you. This takes a lot of trust, but I have a couple of really good friends that I can talk to and it helps a lot! Pastors and people from church are excellent for this!
Third, go to God and be honest. Maybe try dispensing with the formal prayer posture and language and just talk to Him like he’s right there next to you. Some of my best prayer experiences have come from moments like this, and I’d be willing to bet that God the Father loves it when his kids take time to have a good heart to heart with him.
Finally, when you do get a chance to feel joy (and you will), try to just let it in for a few moments. I KNOW how hard it is to let down your guard. I’ve FELT how vulnerable a person can be when we first step outside of the walls we’ve built. Keep in mind that is possible to feel both fear and joy, as the women did that first Easter morning. So try to dip your toe into the river of joy once in awhile, you might be pleasantly surprised!
Trust me, it can and does get better. I’m proof. I’m still imperfect and I still get scared and feel guilty sometimes, but Jesus is with me, and he is with you too. The author of Hebrews states that Jesus, our great high priest, has felt everything that we do and can identify with us. That is a source of great comfort, and even joy!
In the USA, the National Suicide Lifeline is:
It is available 24/7. Please call if you need help.